Playing the substitute game
The Substitute Game
by Christina Ryan, DLI CEO
If you were asked about your unconscious bias, or prejudice, what would you say? For many, it is a light touch to check on conditioned prejudice, and then attempt to change inbuilt habits. For others it is about denial and a claim that they aren’t prejudiced.
All of us have conditioned prejudices. Assumptions that we make about “others” who are not like us. These assumptions are usually unconscious and based on decades, or centuries, of social norms and values that are part of the societies we live in.
Checking our prejudice can be an uncomfortable activity. Turning an inward gaze to check on how inclusive or accepting we are can produce results that feel awkward.
A nice little trick that can assist in checking where we land on inclusion and valuing of “others” is to play the substitute game. If you replace the diversity group you are talking about with another, would the sentence still sound okay?
Some commonly heard assumptions for the disability community suddenly become statements of prejudice when we play the substitute game.
- “Its great to see you doing your company directors course, but disabled people aren’t good at being on boards.”
Replace with – “its great to see you doing your company directors course, but people of colour aren’t good at being on boards.”
- “Don’t apply for your masters degree, you won’t meet competency because of your disability”
Replace with – ““Don’t apply for your masters degree, you won’t meet competency because of your cultural background.”
- “You won’t be able to move into management. Its too demanding for disabled people.”
Replace with – “You wont’ be able to move into management. Its too demanding for a woman.”
- “Disabled people can’t do politics and make tough decisions.”
Replace with – “LGBTIQA+ people can’t do politics and make tough decisions.”
Suddenly, these everyday common statements about disabled people become very unacceptable when applied to other diversity groups. All of these statements are real, some are actual quotes sourced from the LinkedIn posts of disabled people.
Anyone can play the substitute game. Simply replace the diversity group you are talking about with another. It works best when you replace the “other” diversity group with your own. Would you accept being talked about like that? Would you agree with the assumptions if they were made about you?
Prejudice and bias are uncomfortable. They are even more discomforting when we realise it is our own prejudice or bias. Until it is uncovered, though, it cannot be addressed. Very few people are deliberately prejudiced. Usually, once we realise that we have been conditioned to prejudice we are then able to address it and move towards the valued diversity that is a far richer way forward.
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Christina Ryan is the CEO of the Disability Leadership Institute, which provides professional development and support for disability leaders. She identifies as a disabled person.